A new chapter

After eight guilty months, this Thanksgiving I finally made the time to start publishing content  I had collected and written up in March of this year during my trip to Australia. I used the early morning hours to nurse a cup of coffee (or three) and start editing posts that had sat silently in their folders for way too long. And as I was reading through all the background research and interviews that I had done for each visit, I got genuinely re-excited about all the knowledge, connections and experiences I collected over the last two years of working on Social Venturers! I was overcome by a sense of elation and gratitude as I reflected on the great conversations I had on my most recent trip to Australia alone:

I spoke with Kaitlin Tait – Co-Founder of Spark* International – in a cozy social enterprise cafe in Richmond, Melbourne, about their journey from Tanzania via Cambridge to Papua New Guinea and Australia.

I spent one late afternoon at The Difference Incubator in Melbourne discussing the next big thing for the social enterprise sector, vehemently nodding my head in agreement with Isaac Jeffries thinking to myself “These Australians really get it!”.

Another time I found myself talking to Tom Allen outside the Queensland Library in Brisbane’s tropical sun soaking up every word he said about bringing social entrepreneurship into middle and high school classrooms, all the while filling me in on his international lifestyle and passion for using design thinking for social good.  

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Social enterprise cafe STREAT was founded in 2009 by Rebecca Scott & Kate Barrelle

I have learned so much from Social Venturers in Australia, Europe and the United States, and I can’t thank them enough for making time to critically and openly talk about their programs and share their outlooks on the world of social enterprise at large! With that said it comes as no surprise that I was disappointed with myself for not sharing any of these insights and  experiences until eight months later. It doesn’t look like much on the site itself but it takes about an hour for each post (Spotlight and Field Visit) to be edited for online publication and go live; and it wasn’t even about making the time, it was about everything else that was going on.

Once I received my greencard for the United States in March 2016, I jumped into local work projects with both feet: I ran two rounds of a 12-week pre-accelerator for university students, took on the role as B Keeper for Central Virginia’s B Corp community, launched Virginia’s first social enterprise mini-accelerator in collaboration with Unreasonable Institute, started to advise small businesses and startups with a social mission one-on-one and helped run a co-working space. I joined an incredible network of ecosystem builders called Startup Champions for which I help run communications and outreach, and I supported a local accelerator for high-growth companies as mentor coordinator. I loved every minute of my work locally, and still do, but inevitably Social Venturers was pushed into the background.

This is the moment where I am supposed to say “But that’s all going to change now! Now that I remember how important and invigorating all the research behind Social Venturers is, I will make it a priority and magically fit another five hours into my 50-hour week! Boo-yah!”. I have made these types of commitments before and know It. Doesn’t. Work. As much as I have always enjoyed Social Venturers, the travel, the research, the conversations – right now is not the time.

I have answered many of the questions I had when I launched Social Venturers. I have seen many different support models for social entrepreneurs, not around the world, but at least on three continents. From the very beginning I was very aware of the fact that the landscape of social enterprise support is transient and ever evolving. I never fooled myself into thinking I could capture it all; because “all” will be different a week from today.

My first field visits for Social Venturers took me to Europe in January 2015

My first field visits for Social Venturers took me to Europe in January 2015

Instead of focusing my efforts on the big questions, I have shifted my attention on social enterprise support in mid-market sized cities. When life dropped me off in Richmond, Virginia, I declared it a testing ground for social enterprise support in mid-tier cities. Having learned so much about support models in metropolitan areas like Berlin, London, Amsterdam, New York City, and Melbourne, I became more and more curious about the power, opportunities and challenges of social entrepreneurship in smaller places with less awareness and infrastructure for these type of changemakers.

In September 2016, I launched Unreasonable Lab Virginia with a group of startup ninjas, and it gave me some first insights into the differences for social enterprise support between large, established ecosystems and emerging ones (Read more about early lessons, our definition of success and next steps!). It is a first step into a new direction for Social Venturers. Not only do I get to apply everything I learned from other support organizations in different countries, I am also expanding my toolbox venturing into the world of B Corps, honing my skills in startup acceleration and community building, and growing the foundation of Social Venturers. All in all, a pretty exciting prospect for 2017!

Join me on my journey! If we have not met yet, drop me a line to anika@socialventurers.com! If we have met, let’s catch up for coffee again next time I’m back in your neck of the woods (Germany and Australia are coming up!). If you know of a social enterprise support program that I could learn from, especially but not exclusively in mid-tier cities, I want to be in the know! Let’s connect via Twitter or LinkedIn. Stay in touch and stay critical.  

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